All of a sudden, my brother sends me a diatribe about living in Hawaii:
“I dunno if ma told you, but we are moving back to my beloved San Francisco.
We are getting some great job offers there that we have never gotten here in Hawaii for six years of looking. This place is great for visiting, but living here as a resident is becoming more and more untenable every year.
This is not my Hawaii anymore.
Everywhere I look, I see how mine & Cris’ memories are profaned for that ole tourist dollar.
San Francisco is still as awesome and progressive as it always has been — now more than ever. $15 minimum wage, worker’s rights laws that work, legal marijuana, and employers that pay 100% insurance.
Hawaii will never catch up. At least not in our lifetimes. The Frank Fasi politicians are gone. (The greatest mayor ever.)”
I’m reading this latest text, thinking, “Dude, you were homeless in your beloved San Francisco for years.” Remember that?
Hawaii and SF both have the highest cost of living in the country, not to mention the highest number of homeless. Although San Francisco’s whipping that rate into shape with honest change.
My brother’s right on one major count: This isn’t the Hawaii we remember growing up. Check out Haunani-Kay Trask’s “Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture” on Cultural Survival. I couldn’t stand her activist ass when I was a longtime resident, but the woman has a point.
When I left in the mid-’90s, Hawaii was already headed into the no-man’s-land of putting all its eggs in the tourism industry — to the detriment of all other self-sustaining industries that would actually benefit the people (and I’m not talking about Oprah Winfrey’s).
You wouldn’t believe how far Hawaii’s fallen. Yes, even beloved Maui, a tourist mecca.
Everything and I mean everything is geared toward rich, privileged tourists, heavy on the Asian influx, just like in the 1980s through ’90s. In Waikiki, most signage includes Japanese first then maybe English. When Ed and I last went there three years ago, we tried to get seated at a sushi place in the Sheraton Waikiki. The Japanese-only hostess stared blankly at us. We left for McDonald’s. Also in Japanese. Plenty pineapple. Japanese visitors
love associate pineapple with paradise, after all.
I couldn’t tell locals from tourists, either. Japanese, Chinese, and Korean nationals have bought up the priceless island real estate and live there at least half the year. They live among the sparsely populated locals — once a proud, ethnically mixed plate.
Politicians spouting the same old feel-good, fake-aloha story (allegedly) make sweetheart deals with developers for all-encompassing resort towns prostituting the bare-bones surface stereotype of island living — manufacturing pre-packaged experiences for only the top 1 percent of outsiders willing to spend a lot to act like locals.
It’s no longer the Hawaii I knew.
The skies literally aren’t blue anymore, but the same shady gray of a Los Angeles or Hong Kong.
I used to be able to smell plumeria touching down on the tarmac of Honolulu International Airport. Now, it’s just diesel fumes, secondhand smoke, and desperation.
Still, my son and his friend are down there trying to enjoy what’s left of their summer vacation. My humble ohana (mom and brother) are taking care of them as best as they know how with what little they have left.
My hope for James and Trey is that they discover a little piece of the paradise my brother and I once enjoyed growing up… in the local people they talk to, including those living in tents by the beach and on the sidewalks of downtown Chinatown. I hope they see what greedy politicians, developers, and their high-priced clientele have done to the islands and the islanders displaced by one trashy commodity, tourism at all costs, even to sovereignty and whatever made Hawaii Hawai’i.
I hope they stay the hell out of Waikiki, except to spread the wealth around to the street performers.
I hope they experience the real Hawaii that I once fell in love with.
And, I hope they leave the islands better than they found it.
How’s your summer?